Great Moments in Badass Rock History: L7

Tampon-throwing, abortion-supporting, list-making rock heroes.
Publish date:
August 5, 2011
tampons, teenage memories, l7, menstrual weapons, rock ladies, M

L7 formally achieved Rock Infamy in 1992, at the UK’s Reading Festival. When the band experienced sound problems during their set, the crowd got punchy and began pelting the stage with mud. L7’s lead singer, the inimitable Donita Sparks, responded by removing the tampon currently going about the tampony business of absorbing menstrual blood in her vagina, and THROWING IT AT THE CROWD, directing the rabble to “Eat my used tampon, f***ers!”

Oh, I know a bunch of y’all are recoiling in revulsion and distress right now, but I have to admit I think this is a great story. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a more defiantly punk thing to do. Sid Vicious used to cut himself onstage, sure, but there’s an added level of taboo when it’s blood issuing from ladyparts. I’ve never flung my own uterine detritus at anyone, but haven’t we all had really, really bad days when doing so might have felt really, really good?

No? It’s just me then.

The tampon story is probably L7’s biggest pop culture moment, which is a shame because they were an awesome band even without menstrual weaponry. I loved everything about them, from their rage-filled music to their total rejection of feminine beauty standards, underscored by their predilection for smearing paint on themselves prior to playing live. Bricks Are Heavy was my jam in high school, with particular emphasis on “Sh*tlist” (which would later make a noteable appearance on the "Natural Born Killers"soundtrack) and “Everglade.”

“Sh*tlist” is now inconceivable in a post-Columbine world, but in the relatively innocent early 90s, it was a deeply gratifying warning to anyone who might mess with a righteously angry lady’s desire to express herself:When I get madAnd I get pissedI grab my penAnd I write out a listOf all the peopleThat won't be missedYou've made my sh*tlistWhat the hell was I so mad about when I was 16? I have no idea. I probably thought the pop-chart tyranny of Ace of Base was totally oppressing my unique white middle-class suburban existence. Nobody understood me, man! My whole life was one. big. dark. room.

I also had a special place in my withered grey teenage heart for “Everglade” -- still do -- as it tells the story of the titular protagonist defending herself against a sexist douchebag at a rock show. It successfully described my frustrating experiences as the lone girl in the mosh pit. I took significant pride in my willingness to mix it up at shows, and “Everglade” made me feel less like a presumptuous outsider trying to edge into the dudes’ turf and more like I was part of a galvanized nationwide community of fierce rock-show chicks.

Not only did L7 produce some amazing music, but in 1991, with help from The Feminist Majority Foundation, they also co-founded Rock For Choice, an organization that put together benefit concerts to raise money for pro-choice groups trying to improve access to safe and legal abortions. These benefit shows were hardly your typical sedate fundraising affairs. The first concert featured not only L7, but also Nirvana and Hole, and subsequent shows would include many of the biggest bands of the 90s, which went a long way in bringing positive attention to abortion rights.

As the 90s ended, L7 went on “indefinite hiatus,” washed the paint off their faces, and began pursuing other projects, their tampon-throwing days but a fond memory. Nevertheless, whenever I’m feeling beige about my grown-up mid-30s white middle-class semi-urban lifestyle, I still put on Bricks Are Heavy and rock out in my IKEA-decorated condo. Sometimes I’ll even throw some Stayfree around, just for old times’ sake.

Kidding. That was a joke.